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Thursday, 1 March 1984
Page: 208

Senator HAINES(11.59) —The fact that we are debating today a ministerial statement that was brought down on 23 August and we are still looking at it some six months later I think speaks volumes for the problems we are facing in this chamber with regard to papers and statements generally. It is quite extraordinary that we should now be faced with looking at a statement which is no longer really relevant, as Senator Messner has pointed out. He mentioned, in the few words he had to say, the immense amount of confusion that has been evident in the community with regard to the Government's proposed assets and income test legislation. If his office has been getting the volume of mail that mine has, he certainly did not have the normal rest period to which parliamentarians can look forward in January. Despite the fact that the Minister for Social Security (Senator Grimes) put out an extremely comprehensive document late last year, for which I would like to thank him, which answered a lot of questions that have been raised, it was simply not possible to make everybody aware of it.

The major anomalies in the legislation that were behind the Australian Democrats belief last year that the legislation had to be held over at least until this session were, mainly, the 10 per cent notional assessment that was to be applied to all non-exempt assets. This meant that any pensioner who had money in the bank or who had investments paying less than 10 per cent income per year was going to have that asset assessed as if indeed it was paying 10 per cent. That applied not only to the people who were, quite clearly, trying to avoid their responsibilities by putting money in non-interest bearing accounts, but also to those people who had amassed, in total, amongst all of them, something like $31 billion in Australian savings banks and financial institutions paying less than 6 per cent. A large number of those people would be pensioners who wanted ready access to their money. They were not necessarily large amounts they had in those accounts but these amounts were still going to be assessed at 10 per cent. The same applied to people who had shares in Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd which may well have been left to them by a parent or by a deceased spouse. Since I am one of those people who has assets in BHP I can assure honourable senators that the yield the company was paying annually is nowhere near 10 per cent, it is not even a third of it.

Senator Grimes —What about capital gains?

Senator HAINES —Well, capital gain is not something that is affecting these people at the moment. I daresay the honourable senator has something up his sleeve which will catch people with capital gains in due course. I do not want to debate that matter at the moment. The other problem that was concerning people was the application of the $30,000 leisure package which included hard assets only; that is, the people who had been in a reasonable income bracket all their lives and who had been able to acquire a holiday home, or a caravan, or a high power speed boat, or whatever, were able to have the value of these assets taken into account as non-exempt. The people who preferred to save their money for an annual holiday on the Gold Coast, Tasmania, the Barossa Valley, Perth or whatever had those savings taken into account and assessed.

Indeed, as far as we were concerned the Government's proposal did nothing to prevent money going to the wealthy or to precipitate, in any way, its going to the needy. Indeed, I will stand by the notice of motion that I have had on the Notice Paper for something around 18 months. It calls for the incorporation or introduction of a national portable contributory superannuation scheme. I understand there was a comment from an honourable senator in this place yesterday who claimed that this was going to require an impost of another 5 per cent on people's taxation. I point out that at the moment the percentage of personal income tax which is paid out in age pensions equals 28 per cent. That amount alone should indicate to some people that a pension ought to be a right or that if we do introduce a national, portable contributory superannuation scheme it should not need anything like the imposition of a 5 per cent tax levy. It has pleased a lot of us that the Government has delayed, by its own action, the imposition of what was an anomalous and iniquitous piece of legislation. However, I would have much preferred the Government to withdraw the Bill altogether.